Welcome to Ms. R's Blog!

A big shout out to my old students from Savannah and from Duluth! I miss you guys, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to travel and see a very different part of the world.

The teacher in me can never resist a teachable moment. So, as you read my blog about living and teaching in Liberia, I hope you absorb some new knowledge. Please comment on my posts; feel free to ask me questions and to answer the ones I’ve posed. I want this blog to be a place of dialogue!

I’ve got a list already started of things to write about, but I would love your input. What do you want to hear about?

Monday, September 26, 2011

At the Cook Shop

I was able to Skype with a class in Duluth, Georgia last week.  They asked many questions about the food that I eat and the animals I see in Liberia.  So, the next two blogs will be focusing on these two topics.

Admittedly, I am not an adventurous eater.  You won’t find me on any game shows that require consuming intestines, livers, or bugs.  In that respect, I apologize that you will not be able to read any gruesome tales of my dinner table. 

What has intrigued, or interested, me most about Liberian cooking is the method of cooking at local cook shops.  These are places owned and frequented by Liberians.  (There are other restaurants owned by expatriates, people from other countries where you can go to get more “American” style food at a more expensive rate.)

WARNING: Local cook shops should only be frequented if you’ve been taken there by someone you trust.   The locals may not cook with clean water, which is a no-no if you want to avoid nasty stomach problems and typhoid.  

There is a local cook shop across the road.  Notice, I did not call it a restaurant.  When I say local, you should just go ahead and imagine a dilapidated, old and falling down, building.  The building is divided into two rooms – a kitchen and a dining room.  The kitchen has many women sitting on the tops of jugs of oil, stirring in pots.  There are no ovens.  Rather, the women cook over hot coals!  The dining room has about 6 plastic picnic tables and chairs, and the flies are abundant!

True Liberian food is accompanied by rice.  The sauce or soup served atop the rice is usually very oily and EXTREMELY spicy.  I’ve tried cabbage soup; it was red, surprisingly.  There’s another dish I tried that had cassava leaves ground up in it.

If you want to know how much to pay for the meal, you ask, “How mow?”  That’s like Liberian English for “how much?”  (Side note: Liberians speak their own FAST dialect of English.  I cannot understand it…yet!) 

A meal with rice and soup and drinks for three people costs $350 LD, which is $5 US!  If you get to know the cook, you can begin to make requests for what you want to eat and can bring Tupperware containers to fill up and take home for dinner!

I definitely want to get to know the cook and let her know that I’d like to stick to chicken or fish.  I’m told that most times, the meat is “bush meat.” Quite frankly that means that whatever is killed in the bush is what ends up on your plate.  I’m not ready to be a connoisseur of rat meat or whatever else might be thriving in those weeds.  Last week, I almost ate pigs’ feet.  In another dish, I found cow skin!  

Cabbage Soup and Rice (with fish)
Christine's Cook Shop
The Kitchen
Challenge:  Look up fufu.  What is it?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Market Place

Here's an excerpt from my journal about the local marketplace.  The market is about 1/4 of a mile down the street from my house.  The market IS NOT the same as a grocery store.  The grocery stores are more like small American supermarkets.  The market place is where local Liberians sell their wares to one another. 


Accurately explaining the market place really requires pictures.  I don’t know if I can adequately relay the sights and sounds of that place. 

First, I must say that the markets are located behind the street vendors I had been seeing on the sides of the streets.  There was no indication that these stalls went back so far!  Street vendors sell things from roughly hewn tables or wheel barrows (I saw one guy selling large snails from his wheelbarrow!) and make stands out of tin roofing material turned on it’s side and covered with cloth for its roof. 

Second, the market is – well – imagine the dirtiest flea market you’ve ever been to and multiply it by 100.  The roof is tin and held together with string and/or held down by rocks.  The tables are blackened by the same filth that’s on the floor.  The dirt here isn’t hard-packed.  Rather, it’s fine and gritty and impossible to keep out of your shoes.

The stuff sold at the tables varied from spices, peppers, fufu, vegetables, and fruits.  It was when I caught sight of a massive amount of flies that I realized there were also tables with meat – pig feet, chicken feet, livers, fish, etc.  The smell was awful.  I tried to hide the fact that I was gagging and had to put a considerable distance between me and the meat tables until the urge to faint finally subsided, or went away.

Third, the people in the market are interesting to watch.  Some are like vultures, wondering if I will be their prey.  I always have to look to my friends to see if the prices I’m quoted are reasonable.  There are children playing in the mire and muck on the floors.  I’ve noticed that many of the toddlers are taken care of by children only slightly older than themselves.  Older women have no problems falling asleep on top of their tables, while younger women might be seen slaving away using mortars and pestles to grind what looks like butter or cheese.  There aren’t many men here, but one kind guy did let me take his picture as he used a meat grinder to process some cassava leaves.  (I had to promise to print a picture and bring it to him.)

After I made my way home with my meager, or small, purchases of bananas, oranges and sweet potatoes, I set about the task of scrubbing my flipflops.  There’s so much trash mixed in with the dirt that I can’t stand the idea of carrying that filth in and around my apartment.  So, part of my nightly routine is scrubbing my feet and my shoes with soap and water.  I bought a special brush for the purpose.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Water, water, everywhere. And not a drop to spare.

Living in Africa this past month has really made me stop to think about the natural resources I use.  Sometimes, I find myself feeling very wasteful.

Today, for example, the girl who helps clean my house saw that I had thrown some eggs away.  I had assumed that the eggs were bad.  They’ve been in my refrigerator for weeks.  (Eggs in Liberia do not come with an expiration date on the side of the package like the ones in the United States do.)  She, however, said she’d take them home and try them.  I instantly felt guilty.  Here I was throwing away five eggs having failed to at least crack them to see if they were still good or not.

Another way in which I am constantly reminded how different my life in Africa is from the US is in the consumption, or use, of water.  Last week, we ran out of water several times.  That’s right…ran out. 

Let me explain….

I live on the school property.  We call it a compound because there are several people living within the gated area.  The water on the compound is driven in on trucks and stored in huge containers, which hold about 500 gallons each.   The water does not flow directly from those containers, so it must be pumped into a water tower. From the tower, the water flows to the classrooms, apartments, and offices.

There is a leak somewhere in the pipes.  At first, it was a slow leak because it took two weeks to drain the tower.  Now, we have to fill the water tower every two days.  The staff who live on campus had gone a few consecutive days without running water, so you can imagine that I desperately needed a shower.   I followed the suggestions of water and collected rainwater in barrels, adding a few drops of bleach to kill any nasty germs.  I used this water to bath and to wash my dishes.  I would have had to boil it if I needed to drink it, but I have already bought some bottled water for that purpose.

One morning, I figured What the heck!  What’s the purpose of taking a bucket bath when God has given me a natural shower – a rain shower.  In Liberia, we are experiencing the rainy season, so it rains here every day (most of the day).  I donned, or put on my swimsuit, and headed out in the rain with my shampoo, conditioner, body wash, towel, and washcloth to get the job done!

I have to admit that it was reinvigorating and refreshing!  It was even fun!

However, the luster of the rain shower was soon washed away.  I realized that there are people in Liberia all around me – across the street, even – who don’t have running water.  They must pump their water from a well they share will others in the neighborhood and then bring it all the way home.  They have to worry about the bacteria in their water.  Nasty stuff, like typhoid, can grow in the water and can make you sick.  They never get to take showers, but use bucket baths all the time.

Science Challenge: How much water do you use everyday?  Keep a journal about your family’s water use.  Don’t forget to include the water you use for cooking, washing hands, flushing the toilet, washing dishes and clothes, mopping, drinking, and bathing. 

Math Challenge: Now, imagine having to transport that water, walking from your house to the pump.  How much water could you carry in each trip?  How many trips would you have to make each day? Each week?

Writing Challenge: Write a letter to your local water treatment plant thanking them for keeping your water clean and safe for drinking!  I bet they don’t hear that enough!

I suppose this whole experience has taught me not to take my water, its availability, and its cleanliness for granted.  I also have a greater appreciation for the people who do without water and those who walk miles to provide water for their families everyday.